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MotoGP Sepang Results

November 4, 2018

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Rossi Folds, Marquez Rolls in Malaysia 

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One helluva racetrack, Sepang shimmers in the heat.

For the first 16 laps of today’s Malaysian Grand Prix, Valentino Rossi and his Yamaha YZR-M1 took us back in time to the days when he was reeling off world championships like the Chicago Bulls. We were brought hurtling back to Earth at Turn 1 of Lap 17, when The Doctor lost the rear and slid off, handing the win to the trailing stronzo Marquez. Alex Rins and Johann Zarco joined #93 for the joyous podium celebration, but it felt like the end of an era. 

With the 2018 season now in its denouement, grand prix motorcycle racing has devolved from a tooth-and-fang battle for fame and glory to a tooth-and-fang battle for peer approval. Jorge Martin won today’s Moto3 race and clinched his first world championship, while Pecco Bagnaia had more than enough to hang with Miguel Oliveira all day and clinch the Moto2 title in the process. Beneath the rare air at the top of the food chain, in all three classes, riders are still furiously pushing themselves and their machines, trying to position themselves for the only thing most of them always have to look forward to: Next Year. 

Practice and Qualifying 

Conditions on Friday and Saturday morning for the winnowing were dry and hot, resulting in ten Q2 lambs with no surprises. FP1 was topped by Dovizioso, Rossi, Viñales, Jack Miller and Danilo Petrucci, with Alex Rins sixth and Marquez, trying stuff out, in 10th. FP2 scrambled things slightly, with Rins, Marquez, Miller, Viñales and Petrucci on top trailed by Rossi, Dovi and Zarco. The weather changed Saturday afternoon, as did the fortunes of a number of contestants.

With Alvaro Bautista and Aleix Espargaro matriculating into Q2 and an old-fashioned Sepang frog-strangler in between the two qualifying sessions, things got Vitamixed during the pole session. Marquez appeared to take pole easily but was penalized six grid spots for obstructing Andrea Iannone in the racing line and being a recidivist, giving fuel to his haters. This produced a front row of Zarco and Rossi on Yamahas and the aggrieved Iannone third. The second row was an all-Ducati affair, featuring Dovi, Miller and Petrucci. Marquez headed row 3 alongside Rins and Bautista. The big loser in the changed conditions was Maverick Viñales, who went from the top Q2 qualifier to 11th on the grid, unable to get anything going in the wet.

Jorge Lorenzo, after sitting around in Spain for a few weeks, flew to Malaysia, gave his fractured wrist a go on Friday, and pronounced himself out of the race on Saturday morning, thus putting the screws to Alvaro Bautista and Karel Abraham, who might have had another memorable weekend on the heels of their success in Australia had he just manned up and stayed home. Fill-in Jodi Torres, subbing for the long-gone Tito Rabat, suffered a heavy crash in FP4 that would keep him out of the race and give him one more thing—for a total of three—in common with Lorenzo. (Spanish, motorcycle racer, DNS at Sepang.) Michele Pirro, however, came up a winner as he stepped onto Lorenzo’s bike on Saturday and qualified comfortably.

So the Yamahas of Zarco and Rossi suffered in the dry, while Viñales suffered in the wet. Sunday’s forecast, with a chance of Biblical rain at any time, caused Race Direction to move the starting time up two hours in an effort to frustrate the rain gods. They could have just as easily moved it BACK two hours, since when the rain would arrive, or not, was problematic. 

The Race 

At the start, the leaders heading out of Turn 1 were Rossi, Zarco, Jack Miller, Andrea Iannone, Marquez and Andrea Dovizioso. Dani Pedrosa, hoping against hope for a final career podium, was in the picture, while Maverick Viñales, the questionable Future of Yamaha factory racing, was not, having started 11th and running 10th early. Marquez had a major moment at Turn 15 which he rescued with Another Great Save, but Andrea Iannone, on his back wheel at that moment, had to brake to avoid #93, which sent him skidding into the kitty litter, a case of pure bad luck.

Marquez, pushing for the love of the game only, went through on Miller on Lap 2 and Zarco on Lap 5, while Karel Abraham was busy running off track. Michele Pirro, the latest tenant of Jorge Lorenzo’s Ducati, crashed out a lap later. Despite Andrea Dovizioso having won the last two iterations of the Malaysian Grand Prix, it was a miserable weekend for the Ducati contingent, with Lorenzo in street clothes and, at the end, Dovizioso leading the brand representatives in 6th, followed immediately by Alvaro Bautista, Miller and Danilo Petrucci, nearly boiled alive by the perspiration inside his leathers.

By Lap 11, Rossi led Marquez by over a second, with Zarco, Pedrosa, my boy Alex Rins, Dovizioso and a recovering Viñales trailing. Rins soon went through on Pedrosa into 4th and set his sights on Zarco. Rossi led Marquez by 1.3 seconds.

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Rossi, down and out in Malaysia

On Lap 13, Marquez put the hammer down and initiated a serious chase of his rival. Unlike the usually quick cheetah-running-down-the-gazelle, Plains of Serengeti-style, Marquez’ takedown of Rossi was more of a fox and hounds affair, in which Marquez simply pressured Rossi to exhaustion, allowing the heat and Rossi’s age to combine for an unforced error that continued Rossi’s lamentable descent to the status of Just Another Rider. One might consider that a bold statement until ruminating over the fact that Rossi today finished just behind one Xavier Simeon, he of a single point for the year, who will someday tell his grandkids about The Day He Beat the Greatest Rider of All Time.

Once Rossi lost the lead, Marquez eased up, 4.5 seconds ahead of Zarco, who found himself, his tires seemingly Teflon-coated, being tracked down by Rins and Pedrosa. Rins would overtake the Frenchman on the final lap for second place, while Pedrosa equaled his season-best result, finishing 5th and securing the Colin Edwards “Stayed a Year Too Long” award for 2018. Rins thrusted himself into contention for the Best of the Rest, tied with Zarco for P5 for the year. These two, at least, will head for Valencia with something on the line. 

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Alex Rins, up and coming

The Big Picture 

With Dovizioso having clinched second, it remains up to teammates Rossi and Viñales to face off in Valencia in two weeks for the dubious honor of third place for 2018, Rossi enjoying a two-point advantage as the Flying Circus returns to Europe for its death rattle. Any joy for Rossi today occurred during the Moto2 race, as Luca Marini won the race and Pecco Bagnaia, his teammate on Rossi’s SKY46 team, secured the title. With Jorge Martin having secured the Moto3 crown over Marco Bezzechi, the 2018 season is done and dusted, framed and behind glass.

The announcers today were whispering about a rumor that Rossi is considering backing out of his 2019-2020 contract with Yamaha, or at least the second half thereof. He has no interest whatsoever in further sullying his pristine reputation by winning a Colin Edwards award. I think it highly likely that he will compete next year and then call it a career, allowing Yamaha corporate to promote Franco Morbidelli to the factory team in an orderly fashion. Even the most rabid Rossi fans out there, looking at his record over the past three or four seasons, must admit that he’s lost a step. Either that or a bunch of other top riders have all gained one. 

Static Tranches 

After Phillip Island

Tranche 2:   Dovizioso, Rossi, Viñales, Zarco, Rins, Bautista, Iannone

Tranche 3:   Petrucci, Morbidelli, Pedrosa, Lorenzo, Miller

Tranche 4:   P Espargaro, Smith, Nakagami, A Espargaro, Syahrin

Tranche 5:   Redding, Abraham, Luthi, Simeon

Done:          Crutchlow, Rabat

After Sepang

Tranche 2:   Dovizioso, Rossi, Viñales, Zarco, Rins, Bautista, Iannone

Tranche 3:   Petrucci, Morbidelli, Pedrosa, Lorenzo, Miller

Tranche 4:   P Espargaro, Smith, Nakagami, A Espargaro, Syahrin

Tranche 5:   Redding, Abraham, Luthi, Simeon

Done:          Crutchlow, Rabat

Two Weeks Until Winter

All I can think to say about Round 19 in Valencia is that the race will be three laps shorter than last year. We’ll be right here to bring it to you in living color. Thanks to everyone except Rocky Stonepebble who submitted suggestions for the quote that captures the essence of MotoGP 2018. That, and the testing that starts on Tuesday the 20th, are pretty much all that’s left to look forward to for this year. Ciao.

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Boy, this picture gets older every year.

We Shoulda Known Back Then

November 1, 2018

UNEARTHED 2013 SPREADSHEET JPEG

The chart shows each rider’s results during his first premier class season. When I found this file, the last column didn’t exist. I went back and completed the last column.

Did we mention, in November 2013, that Marc Marquez had just completed the most astonishing rookie season in modern MotoGP history? I thought the numbers I had plugged in for him prior to the start of the season were impressive–3rd in the championship behind Lorenzo and Rossi, a couple of wins, a bunch of podiums.

He blew away every reasonable expectation that year, scoring half again as many points as I or most anyone else expected. 16 podiums in 18 rounds. A single DNF and a silly DQ in Australia. A premier class title that didn’t look all that difficult. When he started 2014 with 10 consecutive wins pretty much everyone realized. Had we paid attention at the end of the 2013 season, we would have known that much sooner. He was a prodigy then. He may become the greatest of all time.

MotoGP Sepang Preview

October 30, 2018

© Bruce Allen

Battle for #2 Alien Rages in the Tropics 

With the title decided, the factory Yamaha “team” of Rossi & Vinales, joined by Ducati ace Andrea Dovizioso—the top three riders in the remnant of the 2018 season left last time out in Japan—have determined to slug it out until the bitter end in Valencia in the chase for second best in 2018. The young upstart facing the current powerhouse facing the still-competitive old man in the figurative fight to caddy for Marquez as he golfs his way around his world during the winter. Only a mother could love this part of the season. 

Danilo Petrucci, Johann Zarco, a wounded Jorge Lorenzo, Andrea Iannone and Alex Rins have credible shots at passing Cal Crutchlow into fifth place for the year. Cal, with a bad ankle, has been put on injured reserve, Stephan Bradl getting the call to pilot the #1 LCR Honda in his stead. Bummer. Tito Rabat is MIA recovering from his terrible injury. Lorenzo has wrist and toe issues. And Zarco, KTM-bound in 2019, knows the Suzukis are coming into their own, threatening his current perch in seventh.

My insistence that Alex Rins has more than Johann Zarco is ready to be tested, the Frenchman’s margin reduced to a mere four points following Sunday’s astonishing crash. Rins, career in the ascendancy, is more motivated than the departing, now possibly gun-shy, Zarco. Iannone wants to prove, again, to Suzuki that they gave up on him too soon. Lorenzo has little on the line at this point; Petrucci needs to scrap to keep Ducati Corse folks happy they promoted him to the factory team next year and to continue chasing that elusive, overdue first premier class win. 

Recent History at Sepang 

The 2015 Shell Malaysia Motorcycle Grand Prix will be remembered and talked about for years.  Reduced to an afterthought is the fact that Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa won the race.  By the way, Jorge Lorenzo took second place to pull within seven points of the championship lead.  As we wrote last year, “The 2015 race will be remembered as the day Valentino Rossi allowed his machismo to get the best of him, such that kicking Marc Marquez into the weeds became, for a brief moment, a higher priority than winning his tenth world championship.

Some of you, the lucky ones, have forgotten most of what occurred then and thereafter; I know I have. Those of you unable to forget are in danger of joining the small cadre of bitter Hayden fans who remember Estoril 2006 and still, every year, wear their now-eccentric pink “PEDROSA SUCKS” t-shirts to the race in Austin.” Sorry. I still believe Marquez, smarting from having screwed the pooch early in the year, baited his main rival and Rossi took the bait. Others I respect feel differently, i.e., Marquez stole Rossi’s last chance at a title for the sheer hell of it. Let it go.

The 2016 running of the Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix on the newly refurbished track went especially well for several combatants, and not so well for a few others.  For factory Ducati veteran Andrea Dovizioso, his skills, his bike, the track and the weather came together in the best possible way, allowing him the relief of a second premier class win, his first since Donington Park in 2009. (The win opened a veritable floodgate for the Italian, as he has won nine more grands prix since.) Contenders Crutchlow, Marquez and Iannone all crashed, for no obvious reason, within a minute of one another mid-race, to the delight of those following them.  DesmoDovi was joined on the podium by the dissolving factory Yamaha duo of Rossi and Lorenzo.

Recall last year, when factory Ducati #1 Dovizioso could hope for but one thing as the starting lights went out at the wet track—win the race and keep the title chase alive heading back to Spain for the finale.  Trailing defending champ Marquez by 33 points entering the day, he needed to cut the deficit to less than 25 to avoid, or at least delay, having to endure another revolting Marquez title celebration. By winning the race, and with Marquez off the podium, the 2017 title would be decided two weeks later in Valencia, Marquez’ lead too big, ending with a whimper, rather than a bang. Jorge Lorenzo, it appeared, impeded his teammate’s progress late in the Sepang race, disregarding the importance of Dovi winning. At the last turn (?), Lorenzo did have the courtesy to accidentally run hot and wide, allowing Dovi through to the win everyone but JLo seemed to need. “I AM THE SPARTAN!” 

Ducati GP18 and Alvaro Bautista

The domino effect came into play Sunday on the Angel Nieto Ducati team. Homeless #1 rider Alvaro Bautista rode a GP18, on loan from Jorge Lorenzo, to a highly competitive fourth place finish after spending most of the day in the lead group. His erstwhile teammate, well-funded attorney Karel Abraham, inherited Bautista’s GP17, which is a big step up from his GP16, and promptly put it in 11th place, doubling his point total for the year. Both riders, I expect, have told management that putting them on better bikes would produce better results, in direct contravention of Ducati Corse policy against speaking truth to power.

Bautista’s confidence coming into the race might have traced back to his high-speed crash in FP4, when he found it necessary to bail on the bike at speed. The now rider-less bike proceeded on its own, across the lawn, perhaps a hundred yards or so before smashing into the tire wall. At that moment, sitting in the grass, Alvaro might have realized that the GP18 can ride itself and all he needed to do was hold on. (Better yet, since it wasn’t even his bike, Sr. Aspar wouldn’t be yelling at him all week for destroying another Ducati.) All positives for the well-groomed man departing for WSBK at the end of the year, underachiever tag firmly in place, separated from greatness by tenths of a second per lap. The blink of an eye.

Your Weekend Outlook

Without even looking I can tell you that the weekend weather forecast calls for temps in the upper 80’s and low 90’s, humidity like a blanket, with torrential rain possible at any moment, generally in the afternoon. Brolly girls required. Although the tracks are very different, the conditions will be similar to Buriram where Marquez, Dovizioso and Vinales podiumed. It’s one of those long circuits that makes the 15-minute qualifying sessions so difficult for some riders who, like Valentino, shall remain nameless.

In the words of the late lamented Mr. Spock, wagering on this race is illogical. I expect to see Rossi, Vinales and Dovizioso in the top five, joined, perhaps, by the likes of Bautista, Rins or Marquez. Marquez remembers his crash here in 2011, the one that almost cost him his career, and will tread gently in and around the puddles. And Valentino Rossi. Looking forward to Hafizh Syahrin playing the “home race” card and praying for rain.

With the season drawing to a close, I need to begin the process of locating a pithy historical quote which accurately sums up MotoGP 2018. Readers wishing to contribute suggestions (which, if selected, we will publish with attribution [to the person quoted and submitted by you, the reader]) may share them below in the Disqus Comments section. Pithy quotes need not apply to Marquez; I’m looking for something to say to the twenty-something riders who aren’t #93.

We’ll be back again on Sunday. Cheers.

MotoGP Phillip Island Results

October 28, 2018

© Bruce Allen             Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Maverick Viñales Interrupts Yamaha Losing Streak 

Five laps into today’s Australian Grand Prix, four of the top riders in the world had become spectators. The residue of this carnage produced a bizarre top ten, headed by Maverick Viñales on the factory Yamaha, cracking a non-win streak for the brand extending back to Assen 2017. Alvaro Bautista finished fourth on Jorge Lorenzo’s Ducati GP18. Even Bradley Smith made a KTM top ten appearance. All in all, one mell of a hess. 

Back in the 60’s there was a TV genre known as the “military comedy,” Hogan’s Heroes being the first that comes to mind. In many of these shows, ten men, usually American and British prisoners, would be ordered to stand on a line. The laughable guard (“I know NUT-TINK!”) would demand a volunteer, and immediately nine of the men would take a step backwards. Presto, a volunteer. These were the thoughts going through my mind as Franco Morbidelli was being asked how it felt to finish eighth. This was a red-letter day in the lower tranches as Scott Redding, Taka Nakagami, Karel Abraham, Aleix Espargaro and even the hapless Xavier Simeon all finished in the points. This is what happens when Lorenzo, Crutchlow, Marquez and Zarco are DNS or DNF. 

Practice and Qualifying 

Friday, The First Day of the Rest of the Season, demonstrated the psychology of the riders. Marc Marquez, justifiably exhausted and with nothing on the line, mailed it in. The remaining top ten rightly viewed this as an opportunity to win a frigging race, and went after it. FP1 was topped by Maverick Viñales on the Yamaha, Alex Rins found himself 15th and followed by a bevy of determined Ducati chasers—Miller, Petrucci and Dovizioso—and the Hondas of Crutchlow and Marquez. Rossi could do no better than 10th, with Aleix Espargaro 22nd. Andrea Iannone barged his way into first place in FP2, followed by Petrucci, Viñales, Dovizioso and Cal. Miller dropped to 8th behind Marquez, while Rins jumped into the top ten, with Vale running 10th again. Bad news as Crutchlow broke an ankle later on that will require surgery. So much for 2018 for the Battling Brit. Perhaps the slim chance of a cameo in Valencia.

On Saturday, the weather gods, bored to tears, decided to mix things up a little, weather-wise. Neither fish nor fowl, it was cold, windy, with intermittent rain to keep things interesting. FP3 ended with Viñales second and Rossi fifth, not to mention Rins in 13th and Danilo Petrucci sliding down to 17th. Andrea Iannone led the usual suspects directly into Q2, with Hafizh Syahrin crashing the party despite finishing 12th, 11th and 19th in the three practice sessions. Alvaro Bautista, with Lorenzo’s GP18 on loan, and Pol Espargaro on the factory KTM emerged from Q1, Bautista on strict instructions not to wreck JLo’s sled.

Q2, with weather threatening, ran the reverse of its customary save-everything-for-the-last-three-minutes form. Riders were out early trying to put down fast laps before it rained, producing a highly entertaining session. It ended with the prodigious Marquez on pole by half a second, the sheer unfettered joy of youth propelling him, nothing to gain, unburdened by concerns about old age and infirmity. Viñales and Zarco put two Yamahas on the front row. Rossi would start Sunday from the top of the third row, joined by Petrucci and Dovizioso. Miller, in sixth place, was the top Ducati qualifier as the brand suffered Down Under. Meanwhile, Suzuki, starting to flex their muscles a little, put both guys in the top five. My boy Alvaro Bautista, though, showed Gigi Dall’Igna why he’s losing his job this year, as he bailed from Lorenzo’s GP18 and could only watch as it continued, beautifully balanced and fully upright, as far as the tire wall, at which point it came to a sudden stop. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Marquez’ fifth pole in a row reminds us once again how much fun it would have been to watch him square off with Casey Stoner for a few years. Had Stoner decided to stay in the game, he and Marquez likely would have been teammates. That would have been a spectacle, especially here in Australia. 

The Race 

Despite falling as low as tenth after starting second, Viñales worked his way back up front, going through on Andrea Dovizioso on Lap 8 and checking out by around Lap 14. With Lorenzo and Crutchlow DNS and Zarco taking out Marquez, and himself, on Lap 6, there ensued a spirited battle for the podium. The contestants included, at various times, homeboy Jack Miller, aging legend Valentino Rossi, Suzuki defector Andrea Iannone, and the two factory Ducatis. Today, the latter would include Dovizioso and my personal punching bag Alvaro Bautista who, placing bum on seat of the GP18 for the first time Friday, threatened for a podium today. That was a formidable exhibition of riding and versatility. My hat is off to him.

One couldn’t begin to count the overtakes today, as the incomparable Phillip Island circuit is designed to create opportunities. Iannone, Dovi, Miller, Rossi and Bautista all took sniffs of the lead and made determined efforts to end the day on the podium. Iannone, fast all weekend, went through on Dovizioso on Lap 23 and held fast. A seemingly happy Andrea Dovizioso claimed third, with Bautista closing out both Alex Rins on the #2 Suzuki and Valentino Rossi. Miller and Smith completed the top eight.

The announcers pointed out during the race that in 2014, 2016 and 2018 Marquez clinched the title in Motegi. In each of those years he went out the next week and recorded a DNF at Phillip Island. Today he was a victim of Zarco’s blunder but didn’t really care. The point here, if there is one, is that one’s mindset and reflexes react to the release of pressure opposite of the way they react to the application thereof.

For those of you keeping score at home, Lorenzo’s track record (from 2013) remained intact today. However, due to the wind and rain on Saturday, we are ignoring Phillip Island, leaving us 8 for 13 heading to Sepang. Marquez’ crash left him at 296 points for the year, meaning if he crashes out at both Sepang an Valencia my preseason projection for his point total will come true. As my friend Kevin used to observe, “Unlikely.” 

New Tranches 

As Chief Tranchistador, I have taken it upon myself to remove Marc Marquez from the game, the residue being a number of riders who couldn’t care less, having already lost seats for 2019 or on their way, and those who care a lot, careers still in the ascendency. These attitudes should affect the standings through Valencia. I have awarded Marquez Tranche 1 for the year; it’s his to keep. Going forward, we will start the ranking with Tranche 2. Next year we’ll reinstate Tranche 1 and pretend that the results won’t be the same as this year.

After Motegi

Tranche 1:   Marquez, Dovizioso

Tranche 2:   Rossi, Viñales, Crutchlow, Zarco, Rins, Bautista

Tranche 3:   Petrucci, Morbidelli, Pedrosa, Iannone, Lorenzo, Miller

Tranche 4:   P Espargaro, Smith, Nakagami, A Espargaro, Syahrin

Tranche 5:   Redding, Abraham, Luthi, and Simeon

After Phillip Island

(The riders who have no real reason to give a rip are listed in brackets.)

[Injured]

Tranche 2:   Dovizioso, Rossi, Viñales, (Zarco), Rins, Bautista, (Iannone)

Tranche 3:   Petrucci, (Morbidelli), (Pedrosa), ([Lorenzo]), Miller

Tranche 4:   P Espargaro, (Smith), Nakagami, A Espargaro, Syahrin

Tranche 5:   (Redding), (Abraham), (Luthi), Simeon

Done:          Crutchlow, Rabat

From the Frying Pan to the Fire

Next week is Sepang, carved out of triple canopy jungle in the heart of steamy, exotic Malaysia. Another hair-raising exhibition weekend. The competition for the 2018 championship leftovers is still very much alive. Dovi and Rossi are reaching for each other’s throats, with Vinales in hot pursuit, in the fight for second. Idle Cal Crutchlow’s fifth place perch is threatened by a clutch of riders including Danilo Petrucci, Zarco, Iannone, Lorenzo and Rins. Xavier Simeon, I’m told, enjoyed the sensation of scoring a world championship point so much he vowed to try again next week.

We’ll take a look ahead at Sepang by early Tuesday. Enjoy these images from Sunday at PI.

Phillip Island 2018

Binder beats Mir by .036 in Moto2.

PI 2018 Best Look

Moto2 leaders from the best POV at PI.

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Where to Watch PI 2018

Who wouldn’t love to watch a race from here?

MotoGP Point Totals, Track Records and Col. Kurtz

October 23, 2018

© Bruce Allen

In this issue we’ll look at my well-reasoned and increasingly-ridiculous Marquez Point Total Projection. We’ll check the track records to see if they’re “falling like dominoes” as we predicted. Finally, we shall provide graphic evidence of what happens to people who have spent years under tremendous career pressure, have finally tapped out in accordance with the law of averages, and have suddenly ceased to have to give a shit.

First, new world champion Marc Marquez is actively shredding my projection for him in 2018. It no longer bears comment. I have shaded the standings to reflect changes in position. Note Lorenzo, who fell three spots after having to sit out Motegi.

MOTOGP SPREADSHEET AFTER 16 ROUNDS

OK. Here is the tracker for track records after Round 16. Still not bad, at 8 for 13, with three disregarded.

MotoGP Track Records 16 Rounds

Finally, as promised, here is Scott Redding, on his way to British Super Bikes. Gone upriver. Apparently feeling free to try to out-Alvaro-Bautista Alvaro Bautista.

Scott Redding Upriver

 

MotoGP Motegi Results

October 21, 2018

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez Wins, Claims 7th World Championship 

The 2018 MotoGP World Championship came to a screeching, grinding halt today in a Japanese gravel trap on Lap 23 of the Motul Grand Prix of Japan. It fell to earth in the person of Italian Andrea Dovizioso who, chasing Marc Marquez for the lead, lost the front in Turn 10. Everyone knew there was going to be no stopping Marquez this year. Still, the moment the title is decided, weeks too early, is just a big ol’ bummer. But there it is. 

MM victory continues

Picture from 2014, but you get the idea.

Practice and Qualifying 

The top five on the timesheets for FP1 and FP3 were sufficiently similar to suggest who might expect podium treatment on Sunday. FP1 was topped by Dovizioso, Crutchlow, Zarco, Marquez and Vinales. FP3 included Dovizioso, Crutchlow, Zarco, Marquez and Rossi. FP2 was wet enough to keep a number of riders in their garages, so, once again, it came down to FP3 to separate the Q1 goats from the Q2 lambs. Eight of the top ten riders in the world championship went directly to Q2, the lone exceptions being Danilo Petrucci, having a miserable weekend on the Ducati GP19, and Jorge Lorenzo, who declared himself out of Sunday’s race due to a wrist injury suffered in Thailand. This allowed Dani Pedrosa and Jack Miller to sneak directly into Q2.

In a fun Q1, Alvaro Bautista (Angel Nieto Ducati) and Taka Nakagami (LCR Honda) teamed up to punk KTM’s Brit Bradley Smith, both laying down fast laps very late in the session to deny Smith the glory of passing into Q2. Once there, unfortunately, they did very little, ending up sharing row four with Dani Pedrosa.

As has become the custom, Q2 got trés busy late in the session. For a while, it appeared Crutchlow and Marquez would sit 1 and 2, Honda executives praying to any number of gods for deliverance from Gigi Dall’Igna. Alas, their prayers went unanswered, as Jack Miller threw his Ducati GP17 across the line into second before he crashed out at Turn 5. As the session closed, Andrea Dovizioso hammered his way onto pole, and the prodigal Frenchman, Johann Zarco, blew past Miller into second place, leaving the factory Hondas and Yamahas off the front row for, like, the first time since The Berlin Wall came down.

With conditions on Saturday pretty good, Dovi put in a pole lap of 1:44.590. This compares to 2015, when the top six qualifiers beat his time using Bridgestone tires. (Can’t remember when the control ECUs came on board.) Lorenzo’s brilliant pole lap that day, 1:43.790, is a full eight-tenths faster than Dovizioso’s on Saturday. Track record intact; season record now stands at 8 for 13 as I continue to seek support for my prediction that track records “would fall like dominos” in 2018. From this perspective, Motegi appears to be an outlier. Oh, and let’s not forget Lorenzo’s unique ability to qualify Yamahas on the front row. On Bridgestones.

If Marc Marquez intended to win the title on Sunday, as his gold helmet clearly suggested, he would have his work cut out for him, starting from sixth place against Dovi’s pole. The first lap could easily tell the story. 

The Japanese Grand Prix – 2018 in Microcosm 

If you’ve followed the 2018 season, you will have a pretty good understanding of how today’s race unfolded. Aside from Jack Miller, who started third, veered into Johann Zarco’s path at the start, and stayed with the leaders until Lap 5, it was Dovizioso and Marquez from the very start. Cal Crutchlow and Valentino Rossi occupied third and fourth, with Miller in 5th being stalked by both of the Suzukis, Alex Rins and Andrea Iannone. By mid-race, Dovi and Marquez had put some space between themselves and their chasers. Keeping the pace relatively slow, they allowed a few lower tranche riders—Rossi, Rins and Iannone—to enjoy visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads. For a while.

Finally, at Turn 9 on Lap 21, Marquez went through on Dovizioso and made it stick. Dovi, season on the line, chased the Spaniard desperately for two laps before losing the front in Turn 10 of Lap 23 and sliding off. He would re-enter the race and end his day in 18th position, out of the money, reduced to looking forward to 2019.

The more astute readers out there will realize about now that today’s race was, in fact, nothing like the 2018 season in microcosm. I happened to be reaching for a section header. It won’t happen again.

Dovi’s crash out of second place improved life for Cal Crutchlow, who ended up second, and Alex Rins on the Suzuki, who found himself on the podium for the first time since Assen after having started eighth. Rossi finished a kind of limp fourth, while Yamaha teammate Maverick Vinales could do no better than seventh. The fear amongst Yamaha bigwigs that Buriram (a third and a fourth) was a fluke has now been confirmed.

With top chasers Dovizioso and Rossi off the podium today, a measure of Marquez’ dominance this year was to be found on the podium itself. If one were to take Cal Crutchlow’s point total for the year (148) and add it to Alex Rins’ (118), it would still fall short of Marquez and his 296.

Clearly, my prediction that Marquez would end 2018 with fewer than 298 points was worthless. At least he won’t be able to top Rossi’s 2009 total of 373. That would have been awful. 

The Big Picture 

Most sports leagues set up their season so that there are a few exhibition matches early on, with tension building up to the last game of the season, the one deciding the championship. MotoGP, due to the nature of the game in The Marquez Era, holds the climactic race in, like, Week 16 or 17, then plays a couple exhibition matches to close out the year. By which time most of the owners and fans have jumped on their yachts and sailed off for Barbados.

This is a pity for the fans attending the races in Australia, Malaysia and Valencia. There will continue to be the little “races within the race” that light up so many true believers. There will be, one expects, continuing efforts to set new track records at the remaining venues. For all involved, it’s kind of like macular degeneration. The big picture shrinks; the importance of team and individual accomplishments is elevated the moment the title moves out of reach. From then on, it’s pretty much down to Beat Your Teammate. Once the trophy has been won, most of the competitive air leaves the balloon.

When I was new to MotoGP I didn’t clearly understand what people meant when, at this point in the season, they would say, “Man, I can’t wait for the Valencia test.” I now know fully what this means. Between now and then I plan to post nothing but Monty Python and Peter Sellers videos. 

Tranches 

After Buriram

Tranche 1:   Marquez, Dovizioso

Tranche 2:   Rossi, Lorenzo, Petrucci, Crutchlow, Rins, Pedrosa

Tranche 3:   Zarco, Viñales, A Espargaro, Miller, Iannone, Bautista

Tranche 4:   Morbidelli, P Espargaro, Smith, Nakagami,

Tranche 5:   Redding, Abraham, Luthi, Syahrin and Simeon

After Motegi

Tranche 1:   Marquez, Dovizioso

Tranche 2:   Rossi, Viñales, Crutchlow, Zarco, Rins, Bautista

Tranche 3:   Petrucci, Morbidelli, Pedrosa, Iannone, Lorenzo, Miller

Tranche 4:   P Espargaro, Smith, Nakagami, A Espargaro, Syahrin

Tranche 5:   Redding, Abraham, Luthi, and Simeon

Head Down, Keep Rowing

Next week in Australia, perhaps the most scenic venue on the calendar. The winds on the southern side of Australia can be fearsome, with cold temps, gray skies and seagulls. We will bring you a preview on Wednesday or thereabouts.

MotoGP Motegi Preview

October 16, 2018

© Bruce Allen

Marquez stands on cusp of fifth title 

And so the 2018 MotoGP season comes down to this, a showdown in The Land of the Rising Sun. Home MotoGP track, basically, for Suzuki, Honda and Yamaha; much face at stake. Two samurai riders, Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso and Honda’s Marc Marquez, expecting to go one-on-one for a title so close Marquez can smell it. Much too early in the season for all this. Elsewhere, Yamaha will be watched closely for continuing progress from their recent knees-up in Thailand, or will it be back to the drawing board again? 

  • Center court. Match point. The first of four; he’s serving. Down love-40. On your heels.
  • Game seven, down three, top of the ninth, 0-2 count, two men on base, star closer on the mound, heart thumping like a piston. 63,000 fans going mental hating you.
  • Some soccer thing, leading scorer, limping, down two late in the game, etc. Wet field. Hooligans talking about your mother.
  • NBA game seven, 1.6 seconds left, down three, at the line shooting three. You’re a 70% free-throw shooter late in your career. Miss one and it could be all over. All over.

For those of you who, like me, know more about other sports than they do about MotoGP, these are presented to give you a sense of what I think it will feel like on Sunday for Andrea Dovizioso as he is aligned, clutch depressed, taching up, waiting for the red lights to go out. 237 furious horses beneath him and his chances of making it to a second match point appear thin; everything has to go right. The pressure is beyond comprehension, even for the usually-unflappable Italian. And there’s #93 over there, looking fast and relaxed, Bushido celebration ready in the wings.  

Recent History at Motegi

2015–Dani Pedrosa chose Motegi to make his annual stand, leading Rossi and Lorenzo to the line in a wet-ish affair.  Marquez struggled into fourth place ahead of Dovizioso.  Rossi and Lorenzo chewed up Bridgestone rain tires on a drying surface; Pedrosa, winless all season and dawdling in the middle of the pack for a while, came on strong at the end. This was the race in which Lorenzo dominated all weekend on dry track and finished 12 seconds back in the wet. Rossi left Japan leading the series by 18 points with three rounds left, a virtual lock for his 10th world championship—you know, the one that was purportedly unlocked by Marc Marquez on the melting macadam of Sepang and for which most of you have never forgiven him. Scoreboard.

2016–For the third time in four seasons, Marquez claimed the MotoGP world championship.  He did it by winning the Japanese Grand Prix while the Bruise Brothers of the factory Yamaha team—Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi—choked on the bile of their rivalry, both riders crashing out of a race in which neither could afford the slightest error. Lorenzo’s forthcoming departure from the team after Valencia appeared to be a sound idea.

Last year, in a replay of their Red Bull Ring duel earlier that season, Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso and Marc Marquez gave us another late-race blades-at-close-quarters wheezer, a ten-point spread in the 2017 standings at stake. And for the second time that season, Dovizioso prevailed in what was almost a carbon copy of his earlier win in Austria. In winning the match, Dovi cut his deficit to Marquez from 16 points to 11 with two rounds left. (Marquez would employ the lesson he learned that day to win the same way last time out at Buriram.) Like Rossi in 2015, things would come unglued for Dovizioso at Sepang a week later. 2017, one reckons, might have been the high-water mark of Dovi’s career, likely destined to join Pedrosa as top premier class riders who coulda, woulda, shoulda, had it not been for Rossi/Stoner/Lorenzo/Marquez etc.

Marquez has clinched half of his four premier class titles in The Land of the Rising Sun. He is poised to make it three for five on Sunday. Leading by 77 points, the only thing the Catalan riding machine needs is to dispense with Dovizioso and he becomes, once again, MotoGP champion, gripping the world of grand prix motorcycle racing firmly by the sack and inviting it, in Castillian Spanish, to come play. As Elvis used to drawl so eloquently, “Oh man, it’s good to be The King.” Pronounced it “kang.” He was right.

Rins vs. Zarco

Rins Zarco Crutchlow

Rins, Zarco and Crutchlow. Anyone recognize the venue?

I’m hearing from a number of readers that the tranching of the Suzuki #1 and Tech 3 #1 riders should be reversed based upon, I suppose, 2018 body of work, recent performance, standings. How about performance in the second half of the season?

Rins:

Wins:                                        0

Podiums:                                   2

DNFs                                         4

Points:                                      102

Position:                                    10th

Points since Sachsenring:      49

Zarco:

Wins:                                        0

Podiums:                                   2

DNFs                                         1

Points:                                      123

Position:                                    8th

Points since Sachsenring:      35

Starting in Brno, both riders have finished every race. Rins had a terrible first half of the season—4 DNFs, including three of the first four rounds. Clean since then. Out-pointing Zarco. Sorry. Sticking with my rating. A certain amount of What Have You Done for Me Lately? gets into this, but not too much. Five second-half rounds seems like a reasonable comparison. It will be interesting to see how each finishes the season, with Zarco packing up to KTM, while Rins looks to stay put and partner with the up-and-coming Joan Mir starting next season. His masters at Suzuki need to get him some more grunt to go along with the sweet-handling GSX-RR.

Were I a gambling man, I’d take a substantial position on the wager that Rins will outpoint Zarco in 2019.

Your Weekend Forecast

Sunday’s forecast, from a week out, looks perfect—sunny, just barely warm, with very low ambient radioactivity readings in both the air and water. No hot weather advantage for the Hondas, no moaning from Cal Crutchlow about overheating his front. This is a stop-and-go circuit, a point-and-shoot place if you will. Hondas and Ducatis will enjoy an advantage here. I’m thinking Marquez, Dovizioso and Lorenzo on the podium, but am unclear as to the order of finish, which matters a lot.

Here’s one thing I don’t want to see. I don’t want to see Jorge Lorenzo impeding his teammate in any way at any time during the race. Time for some team orders from Ducati Corse. Any Ducati rider impeding in any way Mr. Dovizioso’s chase for the win and continued life in the championship shall be drawn and quartered in Parc Fermé immediately following the podium celebration. Two year Honda contract or not.

We’ll be back on Sunday morning with results and analysis. And then again on Tuesday with a look ahead at Phillip Island. Dang.

MotoGP Buriram Results

October 7, 2018

© Bruce Allen   Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez Subdues Dovizioso; Title Within Sight 

In a race he really didn’t need to win, on a day he might have preferred sitting in an air-conditioned hotel suite ordering room service and watching Ozzie & Harriet reruns, Marc Marquez dismissed his main MotoGP title challenger without so much as a ”by your leave.” Turning the tables on Andrea Dovizioso in a final turn cutback, Marquez now has a magic number as the Pacific Flyaway beckons. Otherwise, the inaugural Grand Prix of Thailand was a smashing success all around. 

Practice and Qualifying 

Let’s see. FP1, often an outlier, concluded with a top five of Vinales, Rossi, Dovizioso, Miller and Marquez. Friday afternoon produced Dovi, Vinales (?), Cal Crutchlow, Marquez and Pramac Ducati strongman Danilo Petrucci. Other than the Yamahas sniffing around, no big surprises lol. But Saturday morning arrived and FP3 produced a little drama. A late crash at Turn 4 scrubbed what would have been #93’s flying lap into Q2. Not only that, but with riders across the board having improved their times dramatically from Friday, this left MM 11th, having to suffer through Q1 for the second time in 2018 and only the fourth time since the current, pleasantly-Darwinian qualifying format was introduced in 2013.

Marquez obliterated the Q1 field by 9/10ths and dragged Suzuki puzzle Alex Rins along into Q2, Rins having punked rookie Franco Morbidelli by 2/1000ths to avoid 13th place. Q2 would feature the factory Hondas and Yamahas, Dovizioso—a limping Lorenzo having packed it in after an impressive high side in FP2—both Suzukis, Crutchlow, and Johann and the Backups—Jack, Danilo and Alvaro. Singing four-part harmonies in four different languages. Worth the price of admission.

Late in a session led primarily by Marquez, your boy Valentino Rossi, with two minutes left in regulation, went out and scorched Chang International, launching himself into pole and simultaneously into the DNA of most of those in attendance. Alas, Marquez came back one more time and settled 1/100th of a second below Rossi, on pole, with the Italian, one feared, having shot his wad making it to the front row. Would he have any starch left for Sunday? It was easy to imagine Vinales starting, somehow, from fourth and running, according to form, ninth by Lap 5. Sure, there were two Yamahas in the top five in qualifications. If Rossi has another win in him, and Marquez encounters any difficulty, it could be memorable for the tens of thousands of crazed Thai fans, finally getting some respect AND getting to see Rossi get a win under duress. Then there’s Dovizioso, who should probably win the race, looking menacing on the front row.

For his part, all Marquez had going on Saturday was the setting of a new track record (during Q1!) and a new all-time record—first rider to pole after going through Q1. As the old song says, they can’t take that away from him. 

The Race 

If today you found yourself looking for 26 laps of wheel-to-wheel action conducted in an immense pressure cooker turned on HIGH, you couldn’t have picked a better place to be than Buriram, at the (beer brand) International Circuit in scenic, scorching Thailand. Much of the race featured a six man lead group, and at the end there were still three or four contenders. Somewhat predictably, it was Repsol Honda wonder Marc Marquez schooling Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso in the last turn of the race for the gratuitously-dramatic win, a win he didn’t really need, but simply wanted.

Conditions were rugged, as expected. Cal Crutchlow, who spent much of the day in fourth place cooking his tires, faded at the end, riding on the rims. Dani Pedrosa, looking like the old Dani, made it as far as fifth place from a seventh-place start and was likely dreaming of a career-capping podium when he low-sided out of the race on Lap 18.

Maverick Vinales put a Yamaha on the podium for the first time since Germany back in August, trailed by Valentino Rossi who, by any objective assessment, has now officially lost a step. An encouraging weekend for Yamaha, with two bikes in the top four, but not yet time to celebrate anything. I understand they have finally hacked the traction control software to their liking. It is not disloyal to state that almost winning pole or almost standing astride the podium is not as good as winning pole or standing on the podium. Just sayin’.

Though there was plenty of action in the middle of the grid, the top three stayed fairly consistent for most of the day. Dovizioso led the most laps, Valentino led for a fraction of a lap, and Marquez led at the end of the last lap, where they keep score.

Vinales, celebrating a return to the land of the living, picked Rossi’s pocket on Lap 19, was able to keep Dovi and Marquez honest, but never showed a wheel to either, grateful for a third step podium. One Rossi would, I suppose, reluctantly admit to coveting.

The Big Picture

Playing with house money, Marquez will face the first of four match points in Japan in two weeks: Beat Dovizioso, and the championship is over. His win today extended his lead over the Italian to 77 points, with four rounds left. Most observers had their hearts in their throats on the last lap when, in fact, there was little at stake. Now, should he not feel like making the whole Pacific trip, Marquez can return to action in Valencia leading Dovizioso by at least two points, making for an interesting season finale and avoiding the whole fustercluck that is three Pacific races in three weeks.

Of which one, perhaps two will be run after the championship has been decided. At that moment, the Dorna promotion machine will begin yammering about 2019, Lorenzo on Honda, Zarco on KTM, etc., etc. The same way there is now tons of Christmas décor in the stores in the first week of October—staying ahead of the game. PS—By definition, Buriram’s official track record was set in 2018. 8 for 12.

Screenshot (289)

Andrea Iannone on the grid at the start. Image poorly cropped.

Here and There 

Scott Redding is thrilled to be riding in British Super Bikes next year. Just let that one sit and ferment for a moment. Maybe just beating the living crap out of someone, anyone, will make him feel good again. Like going from table stakes poker to nickel-dime-quarter. Thrilling.

Rossi spoke last week of Thailand as “another important opportunity to improve our bike.” General Pickett, I believe, spoke of Gettysburg as “another important opportunity to improve our attack.” I’d say both were correct, but only one worked out.

Michelin brought a fourth rear tire to Thailand. Cal Crutchlow probably didn’t like any of them.

Lorenzo tried to ride this week. Years ago, he rode a week after breaking his collarbone (and broke it again), so I expected him to ride and do poorly. His pride got the best of him on Friday. The Pacific Swing is on the horizon. Friday was a bad idea. It’s not like he’s chasing a championship. 

Tranches…Get Your Tranches Right Here 

After Aragon 

Tranche 1:   Marquez, Dovizioso

Tranche 2:   Rossi, Lorenzo, Petrucci, Crutchlow, Rins, Iannone

Tranche 3:   Pedrosa, Zarco, Viñales, A Espargaro, (Rabat), Miller

Tranche 4:   Bautista, Morbidelli, P Espargaro, Smith, Nakagami

Tranche 5:   Redding, Abraham, Luthi, Syahrin and Simeon

After Buriram

Tranche 1:   Marquez, Dovizioso

Tranche 2:   Rossi, Lorenzo, Petrucci, Crutchlow, Rins, Pedrosa

Tranche 3:   Zarco, Viñales, A Espargaro, Miller, Iannone, Bautista

Tranche 4:   Morbidelli, P Espargaro, Smith, Nakagami, (Rabat)

Tranche 5:   Redding, Abraham, Luthi, Syahrin and Simeon

Here it Comes

Here come the dreaded flyaway rounds, three races in three weeks. Making things worse is the stranglehold in which Marc Marquez holds the championship. Bad enough to have to keep up with all these logistics when there’s something in the balance. But when it’s just filling out the schedule, and there aren’t any playoffs… Whatever. We’ll be back in two weeks with a glance at Twin Ring Motegi.

New Respect for Jack Miller

October 4, 2018
Jack Miller

A younger Jack Miller winning in Assen.

The recent interview on Crash.net with Jackass Miller reveals him to be way more empirical, more thoughtful and a better rider than I had previously thought.

I had never given much thought to why riders do poorly, believing that once they had the setup, regardless of the bike itself, as close to “good” as possible they just went out and let things rip. If they had enough bike and enough riding skills to make the top five they would. If not, they wouldn’t.

In this story, Miller explains how he, and by deduction all of the non-Tranche 1-and-2 riders, understands clearly why he is not podium-competitive. He traces it, in a surprisingly lucid fashion, to the tires, and from there to the order in which the various classes of bikes–MotoGP, Moto2 and Moto3–run on Fridays and Saturdays compared to Sundays. He makes an outstanding point. Dorna & Co should have no reason not to implement it this year.

Mention Jack Miller to me and I immediately think of that blogger in New Zealand or wherever who pretends to be Jack–inebriated, insubordinate, racist, misogynistic, acutely critical of all those around him. It appears Mr. Miller has grown up or else is well along the way. He is a racer.

 

 

Marquez Might Not See 298

September 24, 2018

© Bruce Allen    September 24 2018

MotoGP Spreadshet after 14 rounds

The latest results from Aragon haven’t made much difference in our chase of the predicted 297 points or less for Marc Marquez this season in MotoGP. His projected point total has declined since Austria only due to the once-every-four-decades cancellation of the Silverstone round 12. All I want to say in defense of my dubious prediction is that he is trending toward 316 points. Liars figure and figures lie. One might argue that a single careless post-clinch crash could reduce his point total by his average per race, which is 17.6 which rounds to 18.

316 – 18 = 298.

If there’s anything at all interesting about these numbers–and I’m beginning to wonder myself–it is that Marquez led Dovizioso by 72 points on August 12 and will lead him by 72 points on October 6, the day before Buriram. Each has had a first and a second the last two rounds, while Lorenzo has crashed from pole both times. And whereas Lorenzo trailed Marquez by 71 points on August 12, he will trail him by 116 points on October 6. The Spartan, the tragic hero, victim of his own hubris, might have kept himself in the Top Three Riders conversation. Instead, he is now flirting with becoming one of those sideshow guys like the late-stage Randy de Puniet, who could qualify the hell out of a bike only to finish 14th every time out.